When Hiring an Outside Consultant Can Make a Manager’s Problem Worse

You just can’t take it anymore.

You’re a manager with a supervisor whose work group is in shambles.

You’ve had multiple performance discussions with the supervisor and recorded deficiencies in his/her performance review. Every time there’s another incident, you call attention to it.

You know the situation is out of control. Deep down, you know you let it happen.

Now you’re feeling the heat. The embers are ever closer to your door.

So you’re ready to call in the fire brigade.

Wait.

When work group problems get gnarly, it’s because someone in leadership didn’t lead. The supervisor was increasingly ineffective. And the department manager didn’t intervene. Now everyone is paying the price.

Panic drives the manager to look for a quick fix because s/he wants the problem to go away, the noise to stop, the complaints to cease, and the fallout to disappear…fast.

Making matters worse.

Many  managers believe that by hiring an outside consultant to address the problem, they will come across as take-charge, decisive leaders.

They often overlook (even deny) the fact that, as leaders, they:

  • Made a poor supervisory hire or promotion
  • Weren’t engaged enough with employees to recognize discontent
  • Didn’t intervene soon enough when there were signs of a problem
  • Failed to communicate clearly their concerns and expectations for improvement
  • Obtained no formal commitment from the supervisor for change
  • Didn’t provide essential training in skill areas needing improvement
  • Failed to establish consequences for not turning the situation around

If the manager had addressed the supervisor’s deficiencies early on, the situation wouldn’t have escalated.

We can’t forget  that supervisors want to do a good job. They don’t intentionally make a mess of things. Situations get gummed up one misstep at a time.

You don’t completely fix situations like these with outside consultants. But you can surely  make them worse.

The consultant trap

I feel free to say these things because I am both a performance management consultant and coach.

Consultants are geared to take an aerial view of workplace/business conditions. Coaches most often provide individual support.

There is a place for both, but managers need to fully understand what service they’re buying and how it will be perceived and received.

When you bring in a consultant to “fix” a supervisor, you’re announcing, directly or indirectly, to the workforce that:

  • Your supervisor’s performance problems are excessive
  • You are incapable of addressing them
  • Employees were right to believe that they’ve been subject to ineptitude
  • The consultant will try to fix your supervisor and you will all get to watch, albeit by peeping behind the curtain
  • If the consultant can’t fix him/her, then something serious will happen

What are the chances are that the supervisor will survive this gauntlet? Or even the manager?

Provide a fair chance.

I believe strongly that struggling supervisors (managers, executives, team leaders) deserve legitimate help and support. It’s good business and fair.

When managers don’t know how to help a supervisor overcome performance issues, hiring a coach/consultant can be a  great idea, just keep them out of sight.

A coach/consultant is a tutor, someone who helps the supervisor and the manager figure out what went wrong and how to remedy it…together.

Once a manager knows  the breadth of the issues, they’ll know what kind of coach/consultant they need. If it’s just about supervisory skills, a coach might do. If it’s about how to deal with and navigate internal politics, a consultant may be the choice. If it’s both, then a coach/consultant.

You don’t use outside resources in ways that demean or humiliate your supervisor…or anyone. It’s hard enough for anyone to turn a personal performance issue around, so you don’t make someone’s efforts into a side-show.

Being a manager or a supervisor is a hard job. It takes a long time to get really good at them. Everyone stumbles along the way. Over time we learn that early intervention is the gift that helps us get better. Outside help is a plus when it’s carefully and effectively done.

Getting Nowhere In a Hurry? Take a New Route. | Manage Your Day-to-Day

It’s wonderful when a book moves me to recalibrate my routine and reclaim my creative goals. That’s what happened when I was invited to read and blog about Manage Your Day-to-Day edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U. This book delivers the goods as  the structure, content, and style harmonize. I keep it within reach.

We work hard to find the right job and even harder to progress in it. manage_book

So, it’s discouraging when our days feel:

  • Harried or unsatisfying
  • Repetitive or fragmented
  • Controlled by the needs of others
  • Menial and incomplete

The hours can be long and the unrelenting demand for information exhausting.

There’s an edge to our days when we’re concerned that we’ll miss something and inadvertently disappoint the expectations of others.

Working your way

You’re the one who controls the way you use your work day. It may not always feel that way, but it’s true. It comes down to setting boundaries, adopting right habits, and managing the expectations of those around you.

Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn K. Glei at 99U, targets the drags on your time and psyche through short, tightly focused articles by 21 accomplished business people, writers, and academics who get at the heart of big issues and provide realistic ways for change.

Scott Belsky, founder of Behance, writes in the foreward:

No matter where you work or what horrible top-down systems plague your work, your mind and energy are yours and yours alone. You can surrender your day-to-day and the potential of your work to the burdens that surround you. Or you can audit the way you work and own the responsibility of fixing it.

The book unfolds in four sections that become the routes for a career going somewhere.

Route #1: Build a Rock-Solid Routine

All routines aren’t necessarily productive. We can spend a lot of time checking devices, meeting with people, and walking the floor, believing that somehow we’re capturing essential information we need for..well…something.

Mark McGuinness, author and creative professionals coach, advises:

The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second.

Reactive work is all that checking.

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project,  reminds us to protect the time needed for creative work if we want to produce something of worth.

We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently…frequent work makes it possible to accomplish more, with greater originality….    

Route #2: Find Focus in a Distracted World

Differentiating ourselves is essential to our career growth. It’s how we stand out from the crowd to demonstrate our uniqueness and creativity.

Consider this point by Jocelyn K. Glei:

In a world filled with distraction, attention is our competitive advantage. Look at each day as a challenge–and an opportunity–to keep your eye on the prize.

Our ability to manage distraction to enable our creativity to flourish means we’ve conquered the paradox noted by Cal Newport, professor at Georgetown University:

Increasingly, creative minds are torn in two opposing directions. We’re asked to apply our intellectual capital to solve hard problems….At the same time, we’re asked to be constantly available by email and messenger and in meetings…..

Route #3:Tame Your Tools

In every career there are tools of the trade; pros know how to use them effectively. Technology, both a social and practical tool, challenges our decision-making and self-control.

Jocelyn K. Glei reminds us that:

Technology should be a tool, but if we do not keep our wits about us, it can easily become our taskmaster…It’s easy to blame the tools, but the real problem is us.

So each time you reach for a device, ask yourself: “Why and why now?”

Route #4: Sharpen Your Creative Mind

What we want from our work most often is the freedom to make a difference, to produce something useful, and to be creative.

Design professional, Stefan Sagmeister says it best:

If you want to do projects that you really love, you have to be aware of how difficult they are to do. For a long time I wasn’t doing certain projects, but I thought I would love to do them if I had the time. Then when I had the time, I avoided doing them because of all the other stuff that I still needed to do, like e-mail. And it’s just so much easier to do e-mail than to actually sit down and think….we don’t have time because it’s convenient not to have the time, because we don’t want to challenge ourselves.

Re-claim your time

Time is precious and limited. What we do with ours is our choice. It’s time to break our bad habits and dig into the work that will ultimately fulfill us. Taking control of our time day-to-day is immensely empowering.

Confronting the Employee Attitude Problem | Help for Supervisors

I wrote this post in March 2010 and it has enjoyed the highest number of page views. I realized that during my blog site switchover that searchers were having difficulty locating it. So it seemed like a good time to re-post it with a revised title.

employee attitude472_-3A supervisor’s nightmare—the employee with a “problem” attitude. Makes you feel like you just drew the Old Maid card.

What to do? You have an employee with a personality, work style, or temperament that is driving you crazy or aggravating others, making it harder to get the work done. And you don’t want to fire.

Performance appraisal is how supervisors save us from ourselves. 

Good supervisors use appraisal to teach and guide. Most employees with attitude issues aren’t aware of any problem: it’s just their way.

You know you’ve got an “attitude” problem employee when these things start to happen:

  • Peers would rather do a job alone than work with him/her
  • Discussion at a meeting goes dead when he/she speaks
  • S/he insists that work be done his/her way or hoards work
  • Direction is always questioned
  • S/he consistently criticizes, competes with, or dismisses the work of others

Each of these situations points to an attitude that needs defining. Where to start?

Connect “attitude” to observable behaviors that impact productivity.  

The first step in dealing with “attitude” issues is to demonstrate how the employee’s behavior is affecting the work. Here’s how you prepare:

  • Observe and take notes of specific instances (about 6) where the attitude was obvious.
  • Make a list of the impacts you saw, like defensiveness from others, resistance, stalled decisions, or delay.
  • Determine specifically how these impacts will affect the output of your work group.

Next meet with the employee to talk about their performance to date and your intention to coach them to improve:

  • Raise the attitude issue by sharing your recent observations, naming the dates and situations.
  • Explain what you observed and ask them to offer their perspective.
  • Be specific about the current and future impacts of their “attitude” on the productivity of the group.
  • Ask what they are willing to do to improve and how you can help them.

Raise the stakes and engage the employee in orchestrating his/her own change. 

Most of us don’t change unless there are negative consequences that we can avoid by doing things differently. The more we want to make a positive change and reap the rewards, the more invested we are in the work we need to do.

At this point, explain the next steps to the employee:

  • Together agree on a performance goal(s) for the balance of the year focused on the “attitude” change that needs to be made
  • Require the employee to write and submit a plan of action to achieve it
  • Establish how this change will be evaluated

Gather direct feedback from peers and internal customers. 

Nothing gets our attention more than knowing what others are saying about us, especially in the workplace. So here’s what you can do:

  • Develop 5-8 questions with the employee to be asked of their internal customers, focused on their approach to getting work done.
  • Identify 8-10 peers and internal customers that the employee will ask to answer those questions.
  • Develop a process and timing for collecting the feedback and submitting it confidentially to you.
  • Explain that, as the supervisor, you will also ask 8-10 people to respond.
  • Compile the feedback. Discuss summarized findings with the employee.
  • Reset his/her goals and strategies to improve.

If you are cringing about the effort this takes, I understand. But if you’ve ever fired anyone for poor performance, you know that the documentation, meetings, and general agony of that process make this look like a vacation.

The first pass at this requires the most work. The next time is much easier. How you handle your first “attitude” problem will gain you enormous credibility with your employees. It’s an approach that demonstrates your commitment to helping employees succeed. Being business fit means taking the lead when the chips are down. This is one of those times.

What kinds of “bad attitudes” have you witnessed in the workplace? How were they handled? Any ideas to add? Thanks.

Photo from Freedigitalphotos.net

The Employee Development Bait and Switch—Perpetrator or Victim?

It is a downer when we discover that there are few growth opportunities offered at our jobs. 

When we’re hired, there’s usually someone who talks about how the company is committed to developing employees. For sure there will be a fine orientation program and skills training. Then there may be tuition refund offerings, a chance to go to conferences, those wonderful stretch assignments, and mentoring. 

So we eagerly dig into our jobs to discover that: 

  • Work demands leave no time for development
  • Orientation and training are sporadic and informal at best
  • There are major restrictions on tuition refund
  • No one really mentors or even supervises, for that matter 

In other words, when it comes to our development, we’re often on our own. 

Who’s to blame? 

There’s plenty of blame to go around, and the blame game rarely fixes anything. The problem is: 

  • Many supervisors don’t have the will, ability, and/or time to develop anyone because day-to-day demands don’t enable it
  • Human resource personnel/departments are stretched and employee development initiatives are a low company priority
  • The company’s business strategy doesn’t recognize the bottom-line value of increasing employee capabilities
  • Employees aren’t taking the initiative to develop their capabilities on their own 

In a business setting, growth is about expanding our knowledge, skills, and experiences so we can: 

  • Perform in broader arenas and take on more responsibility
  • Contribute new and better ideas to increase product/service value
  • Be ready to rise in the organization 

Employee development is an advantage to the company and to us personally. 

What to do? 

The economy today is a major challenge to most businesses. The chances of our bosses, HR, or the company looking out for our development are slim, in spite of what’s said. 

So we can sit around and complain or we can take our development into our own hands. 

Your development starts with an awareness of what you want from your career: So, 

  • Write one-sentence describing your career aspirations. (If you can’t write it in one sentence, you’re not truly clear about what you want.)
  • Then write a list of the skills, knowledge or experiences that you want to add or expand.
  • Identify no or low cost actions that you can initiate and manage. List other development activities that you will propose to your boss.
  • Put together your own development plan for the next year, stating which activities you will complete each quarter and their value to the company. 

Coming up with initiatives is the challenging part, so here are some suggestions: 

In-house book club: Offer to organize and lead a book club of coworkers around specific books on topics like leadership, project management, and communication that will meet at specific times on or off the clock.

Free on-line webinars: Identify well-known experts on the behaviors you need for career success, attend their free on-line webinars, or ask your boss if the company will cover the cost.

Twitter chats: Find opportunities on Twitter to participate in topical chats at places like #careerchat, #hrchat, or #leadershipchat. Capture key ideas and input; summarize them and share/discuss them with your boss.

Mentors: Seek out mentors within and outside your company. Be clear about the kind of advice and feedback you’re seeking. Maintain a positive relationship.

Blogs: Follow expert bloggers in the growth areas important to you. Comment, ask questions, and build connections with them.

Courses and conferences: Identify coursework or conferences that are relevant to your work and your growth. Ask to attend and offer to share your knowledge when you return through a staff meeting report, white paper, training session, or presentation. 

Add value. 

Your development has the greatest value when it serves both the company and your career. The more you do to expand what you learn to bring better results, teach others, and add to the capabilities of the company, the more support you’ll get for your initiatives. Please don’t wait to be developed. It’s your career, so own it

Photo from opensourceway via Flickr

Wondering If You’ve Got What It Takes? Open Your Eyes. | Building Self-Confidence

I’ve never reposted before, but after reading Cherry Woodburn’s initial post in her “Confidence Chronicles” series, I knew it was time to repost this one.  Cherry’s interview with Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, career services entrepreneur and one of only 27 Master Resume Writers in the world, showcases the core importance of confidence to career success. 

I often hear this: “I don’t have enough:

  • experience for that job
  • knowledge to lead a team
  • years with the company to advance
  • know-how to start my own business.”

Exactly, who says we aren’t good enough? Most of the time, we’re the guilty party.

Doubt is our enemy.

Negative self-talk is often riddled with self-doubt. We look at what others are achieving, compare ourselves, and question whether we have what it takes. We self-assess against standards that we invent before we know what the real expectations are.

Self-confidence is as much about being willing to explore an opportunity as it is about being able to execute an assignment. All too often, we worry about our ability to do a job before we understand what it is.

Doubt cannot be allowed to rule.  

The antidote to doubt is reality. Not some “reality” you imagine but the reality that exists.

Start by looking around. Who is doing the work that you think you’re “not good enough” to do as well or better?

Look hard and long at those people. Watch exactly what they do and say. Pay attention to the actual results they produce. Examine their work closely. Find out what others are saying about it.

Then ask yourself, “Can I produce work like that or better?”  My guess is that, in most cases, your answer will be, “Sure.”

If you’ve been reading my posts for a bit, you know that I spent many years as a commercial horse breeder. I knew nothing about it when I started.

Before I bought my farm, I had doubts about whether or not I could care for horses on my own since I’d had no knowledge or experience. The owner of the barn where I’d been boarding warned me, “You could kill those horses if you don’t feel ‘em right.” That rocked me.

Then I stopped to think about her and the other people I’d met who were in the horse business. I asked myself, “Is there any reason to believe that the people in this business are smarter than I am? Do I have good people to advise me when I have questions?” The answers were obvious.

Self-confidence is not arrogance. 

Arrogance is when you act like you know everything. Self-confidence is about believing in yourself. It builds courage, keeps you moving forward in spite of setbacks, and enables you to seize opportunities to grow.

You find self-confidence by looking positively at yourself, acknowledging what you can do. You build self-confidence by testing your capabilities.

The biggest mistake we make is telling ourselves that we have to be the best at something before we are “entitled” to be self-confident. In fact, we just have to be as good as the situation requires.

Role models are everywhere. 

If your self-confidence is a bit shaky, it’s time to look around and see who’s out there doing what you want to do with capabilities similar to yours. In the past four months, I watched these two confidence-building situations unfold:

1.) A Gen Y college grad, who hated her job, started a blog, made professional on-line contacts, was recognized for her writing talents, started freelancing, and just got a full-time job.

2.) An experienced marketing professional was downsized, couldn’t find another job, talked to independent contractors about how they worked, informally looked for clients, blogged about her “start up” experiences, got great advice, opened an office, and saw her business start to grow.

Self-confidence evolves. Every step you take helps you build your truly capable self. You can mentor, volunteer to lead a team, give speeches, deliver training, start a hobby business, or cover a temporary vacancy at work.

Every step you take to become business fit builds your self-confidence. If you haven’t had a chance to learn the seven smart moves, perhaps now’s the time. Your self-confidence is your success engine. Without it, we don’t move very far or very fast. Vroooom!

How has your self-confidence been tested? What were you able to do to overcome your doubts and move ahead?  

Photo from nicer than air via Flickr

Turning Employees Around—What It Takes | Feedback Power

Under-performers are part of the landscape in any workplace. You know who they are and so does your boss.

None of us is perfect. Without guidance, it’s easy to adopt behaviors and habits acceptable to us that, ultimately, don’t wear well with others.

As employees we need feedback from day one. There is no better (or cheaper) way to teach us the skills and behaviors we need to be successful.

Performance feedback is one of the most important roles of any supervisors. It’s how problems are nipped in the bud, skills are polished, misbehavior is corrected, and a continuous performance growth culture is built.

Getting through 

Supervisors resist giving feedback because they’re uncertain about:

  • What to say
  • How employees will react
  • What to do if there’s pushback
  • Whether they’ll make matters worse

Employees resist feedback because they:

  • Don’t want to change
  • Don’t get it
  • Don’t respect their supervisor
  • Don’t see any upside or consequences

To make the situation stickier,  employees may perform exceptionally well in some areas like production but terribly in others like on teams.

As a supervisor you need all employees to deliver value in all aspects of their jobs. That’s what you’re paying them for. To accept poor performance in one area is to accept paying a full salary for only part of the job.

“Can you hear me now?” 

Delivering feedback is one thing. Getting employees to hear and act on it is another.

That means you need to:

  • Follow up on your feedback to make sure it’s being implemented
  • Reinforce it through repetition, review, and discussion
  • Reward or deliver consequences based commitments

Feedback only works when you have your employee’s attention. It starts with a conversation where you and your employee talk to each other. Each needs to hear what the other is saying and come to agreement on next steps.

It takes real commitment from both supervisor and employee. And often it takes repeated effort, time, and sometimes consequences.

Michael Vick, a dramatic case 

Michael Vick was a high performing employee as the quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons football team. He could throw and also scramble for yardage like few others.  Vick was a superstar who came from a rough background where he, as a kid and young man, he struggled to avoid the vortex of the streets.

After he went into the pros, he remained tethered to some unsavory people from his “old life.” For years he received feedback from coaches and others about his need to break those ties. He didn’t heed the feedback.

In 2007, he was implicated in a dog fighting ring and pleaded guilty to federal felony charges that resulted in 21 months in jail. Feedback didn’t get his attention but the consequences of not listening did.

Vick had to come to grips with what he’d done and turn it into advocacy. He had to restart his NFL career and recover from bankruptcy. Coach Andy Reid of the Philadelphia Eagles gave him a job as a back-up QB in 2009 where he faced relentless negative public reaction. It was another round of feedback, often painful,vitriolic, and deserved.

It took positive performance to turn things around for Vick.

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, Michael Vick snapped the ball as the starting QB for the Eagles, winning the game 33-13 over the St. Louis Rams. He ran for 98 yards and threw two touchdown passes. He’s now playing with a multi-million-dollar contact, his life clearly on the upswing.

Michael Vick took a long time to hear it and paid a big price for ignoring feedback.

Hearing feedback pays 

It’s one thing to listen to feedback and another to hear it. It’s one thing to hear feedback and another to act on it.

Good feedback generally comes from people who care about us—people who want us to perform well, so we can experience success and growth.

Each of us is both a giver and receiver of feedback. We are positioned to help others turn around and ourselves too. There’s power in feedback. Let’s commit to using it well.

Photo from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr

Superstar or Has Been? | Career Tips to Stay On Top

The rush is in the reaching. Ask any athlete whose career is on the rise. Every day is about putting it all out there for the team, the fans, and the games they love. Winning is the driver, the measure of their contribution and achievement.

Their personal value rises when they: 

  • win a championship
  • get selected for the All-Star Team
  • receive Most Valuable Player (MVP) honors 

There’s nothing quite like attaining superstar status, especially in our careers. It’s exciting, often representing the reward for years of struggle and hard work. 

The moment we’re tapped as “best” is when our career life changes. 

The meaning of the moment 

When we’re recognized, we’re elated. We bask in the: 

  • Public recognition of our value
  • Upcoming opportunities to showcase our talents
  • Access to company leaders
  • Deference and/or congratulations from our coworkers 

Our moment passes quickly, though, just like the All-Star Game or that “I’m going to Disney World” TV shot. What follows are new challenges. 

At work superstars are usually considered “comers“—high potential performers and/or  succession plan designees. They’re the company’s MVPs. 

Their status is generally achieved through performance results over time and the endorsement of the leadership, not necessarily in equal measure. 

The bottom line: Someone thinks you have “it” and the company wants to put “it” to the test and benefit from the outcome. 

Sustaining momentum 

Superstar status raises your bar. When a broader audience starts paying attention to you, there’s pressure to perform at a higher level.

 Superstar moments launch new expectations for more and better performance like: 

  • Delivering significant outcomes on more complex projects
  • Assuming greater levels of authority and responsibility
  • Demonstrating tolerance for stress and the ability to perform under fire
  • Engaging effectively with powerful influencers
  • Negotiating with high profile customers or political officials 

You know what happens in sports: Last year’s MVP needs to increase on-field performance or hear about how s/he has declined. This year’s baseball All Star better hit well during the second half of the season or be questioned. 

Once we’re designated as a high potential player at work, if we don’t live up to expectations, we can fall out of favor and see our careers go downhill.

Avoiding “has been-ship” 

It’s difficult to get recognized as a top performer and even harder to sustain it.

In our jobs, success measures combine the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. But they count just as much as batting averages or yards per carry. 

To keep your superstar status up, these actions are essential: 

Remain relevant—Keep your knowledge, skills, and experiences ahead of the curve by staying up on innovation, politics, economic issues, and industry challenges; Be the voice of “what’s coming”

Maintain strong connections—Leverage is essential; Build, tighten, and expand your relationships in every direction, both inside and outside your company; Create allies and be one

Over-deliver—Make sure the results you and/or your department produce exceed expectations without exceeding costs, always improving the process

Engage employees—The ability to build and sustain a positive, can-do group of employees, engaged in their work, performing professionally, with little drama, and without giving away the store cements your value

Stay in the mix—Be there. Make sure you have a seat at the table. It helps to be likeable, a source of proper levity, and a voice of reason. When decisions don’t feel right to others unless you’ve been consulted, that’s a plus.

 Keep a clear head

 The rarefied air of superstardom at work can muddle our thinking unless we’re careful. Being recognized is important and when we get it, we should enjoy and value it. Our next moves, though, need to be informed and steady. Getting to the top is only the first step. Staying there is often the bigger one. Go for it! 

Photo of Phillies 2011 All-Star pitcher, Cliff Lee, from Matthew Straubmuller via Flickr